Canada’s immigration policies are just as warped as America’s—but in a whole different way

Come to the dark side.
Come to the dark side.
Image: Reuters/Chris Wattie
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Two bordering countries sit at the top of immigrant-inflow lists in either absolute or per-capita terms. Both rank in the top 10 for immigrant-friendly environments on the latest Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX). Both grant birthright citizenship. Unlike most countries in the world, neither require citizens to carry official photo identification, which along with their liberal immigration policies makes life easier for undocumented immigrants.

But one has been portrayed as the devil, and the other an angel. Can you guess which two countries we’re talking about?

While Canada basks in the public limelight, the US has been banished to the shadows. US president Donald Trump’s immigration policies have sparked controversy and fear. Rumors fly about immigrant checkpoints. And there are backlashes on threats to linguistic sovereignty, religious rights, and legal impediments to family unity.

But America deserves credit where it’s due: The US is just about as immigrant-friendly as Canada. In the zero-sum game of immigration, where global emigration necessarily equals immigration, the US welcomes more immigrants than any other country—by a landslide. In fact, the US welcomes nearly four times as many immigrants as Germany, according to the latest UN data published by the Migration Policy Institute. Of course the US is four times more populous than Germany and nearly 10 times more populous than Canada, which make its per-capita immigration numbers pale in comparison . But which immigrants each country admits is just as important as how many.

While recent furor over American immigration policies has centered on who is being banned or deported, looking at the immigrants a country does grant entry to can be equally revealing.

America admits immigrants based mainly on family reunification pleas, while the Canadian government prioritizes economic-based immigration applications, such as skilled worker and investor applications. In addition to welcoming refugees through numerous federal programs, the US also has a visa lottery program, while Canada doesn’t. The beauty of a lottery program is that it does not give preference based on economic or educational qualifications.

Permanent residents admitted to Canada for economic reasons represented 63% of its total documented immigrants in 2015. Family members and refugees represented 24% and 12%, respectively. The picture in the US is almost a mirror image: According to Homeland Security, family-based immigration applications represented 65% of total immigrants admitted, with economic-based and refugee applications each representing 14%.

But isn’t the US turning its back on undocumented immigrants? A recent executive order from president Trump included an increase in immigration officers and an expansion in the scope of immigrant groups targeted for deportation. This is notable because while former president Barack Obama targeted recent arrivals, Trump is reaching across the board. In one week in February, 600 immigrants were arrested across the US. Time will tell how many will ultimately be deported, but in perspective, these are not record-breaking numbers. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 240,255 undocumented immigrants in 2016, mostly at borders and points of entry.

This data backs up claims that the recent raids are “business as usual” under the “same old” enforcement practices, and not reflective of a real expansion of discretionary enforcement. Indeed, ongoing raids using the more benign name “roundups” were ramped up by the Obama administration. After all, 2016 also began with a series of immigration raids that specifically targeted mothers and children. Even children at bus stops were reportedly arrested before arriving to their effective sanctuary schools. While recent media coverage focuses on a Trump-driven foray into immigrant sanctuaries, immigrant-rights groups reported such scenarios long before Trump declared his candidacy.

President Trump has pledged to return all criminal aliens, but his immigration plan references such a move in the context of immigrants with previous convictions, not dormant violations such as falsified identities. The fear that deportation of non-criminal aliens may escalate under Trump is still just a fear, and rumors of immigration checkpoints are still just that. And reports of a spike in refugees entering Canada after Trump’s executive order are also being challenged as misrepresented.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was also recently praised for opening his country’s arms to the immigrants banned by the US. “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” he proclaimed. But is this really true? If you are an immigrant with a disability, you can be denied entry to Canada on the grounds that your medical care is a drain on national resources. Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, qualified Trudeau’s proclamation by asserting that the country will not actually increase the number of refugees admitted. Trudeau’s stance is in line with the Canadian population, whose tolerance toward accepting refugees ranks about the same as citizens in the US and Europe.

More will change under Trump, and the introduction of detentions of undocumented immigrants who have been living here for years is certainly cause for concern—but Canada has taken steps backward on its  immigration policy too, according to MIPEX. Even Sweden and Denmark are doubling down on restricting immigration.

Immigration is complicated. It’s emotional, geopolitical, and discretionary in practice as a result. But when it comes to what’s practiced or preached to immigrants, the US is still generally ahead of the game.